Bishop Odo And The Phantom’s Idle Fantasies
It’s the only date any English person knows, 1066.
Okay, you might count those other two clickety-clicks’s, 1666, if you’re a Londoner and 1966 if you are one of those people actually enjoying the current weeks of international festival, but essentially there’s just the one date in English history. The date our national ass was whooped by the French.
Of course, William the Conqueror didn’t do it alone. He had one hell of an army, not least of which consisted of his three brothers (or half-brothers – famously a bastard, William’s dad was different) Odo, Robert and Richard.
It’s always good to keep power in the family when you’re a edge-of-the-dark-ages king, so William made sure of the Church’s loyalty by appointing Odo as the Bishop of Bayeux, and put him in charge of rebuilding the Cathedral there. It’s worth remembering that it takes a loooong time to build cathedrals today and took no less time in the Eleventh Century.
Odo was pretty chuffed with his new position, so when he was invited to join in with William’s latest wheeze, an invasion of England, the least he could do was send a few ships. A hundred seemed like a nice, round figure.
It’s weird to think of bishops waging war, but apparently Odo himself rolled up his chainmail sleeves and waded in to the Battle of Hastings wielding his bow, pike, spear or whatever other weapon of choice men of the cloth used in those days.
Afterwards, the victorious William congratulated Odo and gave him Kent. It seems that William soon rather regretted that and grabbed back all the lands he’d given to his mates, keeping most for himself, and redistributing the rest.
Odo still came off pretty well. He got £3,000 a year and manors in thirteen counties. Greenwich was one of them.
Now, I bet you’ve probably already seen where this is going. You probably got it when you saw the city Odo was made bishop of. It’s a long shot, I freely admit, but it’s a Wednesday morning and I’m in a good mood.
There are many theories about who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry, even more about who made it and where. But Bishop Odo is one of the front-runners in the commissioning stakes. The embroidery features several of Odo’s cronies and it’s possible the work was commissioned for the dedication of the new cathedral in 1077.
If the Odo theory is correct, then it was probably made by Anglo Saxon artists in England (the country had a reputation for fine embroidery, known as Opus Anglicanum) and since Kent was Odo’s main stamping ground, the vegetable dyes were made from plants found in the area and there are, apparently, hints of Anglo Saxon in the Latin text, that’s good enough for a Phantom.
So this morning, I’m fantasising that the Bayeux Tapestry was actually sewn in Greenwich. There wouldn’t have been much of a town there then, and certainly no castle, but nowhere was much cop at that time – Rochester was only just being built; Dover had been grabbed back by William.
Okay – so it’s a flimsy theory and it won’t stand up to the merest puff of evidence, (apparently Canterbury is the real front-runner) but isn’t mad theories what the internet is for?
By the way, Odo had a bit of a wild life after Greenwich. He was made William’s regent for a while until he overstepped the mark. William heard complaints of misgovernment and oppression. I can’t even begin to think of how bad the oppression must have been to make it unpleasant by early medieval standards. Odo was thrown into jail until William’s death, when he was let out and promptly led a rebellion against William’s successor. It failed, of course, and Odo had to flee to Normandy, where he joined up for the First Crusade. He was killed in Palermo in 1097 and is buried there.
To see a story-telling embroidery that really was created in Greenwich, see the amazing Greenwich Millennium Embroideries
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